How Hipsters Fell in Love with this Wild West Town that Hollywood Built

Shea Salisbury / © Culture Trip
Shea Salisbury / © Culture Trip
Photo of Cassam Looch
Film Editor20 March 2018

In the middle of the Yucca Valley along Route 62, a Wild West town built by screen legend Roy Rogers has found a new lease of life.

Shea Salisbury / © Culture Trip | © Shea Salisbury/Culture Trip

As a film genre, Westerns have fallen out of favour in recent years.

While the outstanding HBO series Westworld has led a mini-resurgence, modern tastes eschew ‘Old West’ nostalgia in favour of the realities of contemporary life. Certainly to younger audiences, the idea of going back to an era defined by racist and sexist attitudes seems like an alien concept.

Nonetheless, Pioneertown – a living former film set in the middle of the desert – has found a new lease on life with the Millennial-set.

Pioneertown | © Culture Trip/Shea Salisbury

Originally built in the 1940’s as a project led by actors Roy Rogers, Dick Curtis and several other developers Pioneertown was created as a motion-picture set as well as a place for screen performers to live in while they were working.

In its heyday The Cisco Kid (1950’s) TV series was filmed there, but in 2006 a fire burnt down many of the original buildings. However, some of the more famous dwellings survived and today there are weekly Old West performances on site. In 2006, Sir Paul McCartney even performed for an audience of 300 people.

Pioneer town's original Palace | Shea Salisbury / © Culture Trip

Distinct from sound stages and temporary film sets you may find elsewhere, Pioneertown is definitely real. While it may be two-thirds scale, the walls are solid, the streets are dusty and most of the people you meet are residents.

Lorenzo Anderson, shop owner of Arrow and Bear. He and his wife own the store | © Culture Trip/Shea Salisbury

Near Joshua Tree National Park, and in the Mojave Desert, Pioneertown even has a working motel.

There aren’t many amenities on the site, however, with no grocery stores or pharmacies for miles. There is one restaurant, mainly visited by tourists and out-of-towners, with the locals split into two demographics. There are old-timers who have been here long before the recent boom, and the younger set who have spotted a hideaway from the rat-race of city living and the obvious business opportunities available.

Thomas Coor works at the Motel, and told us stories about the history of Pioneertown and the motel, that the actors that built for other actors to stay in while they were filming. | © Culture Trip/Shea Salisbury
Shea Salisbury / | © Culture Trip

The decline in the popularity of Western films in the decades after Pioneertown was built hit the area hard. Plans to develop a golf course and additional motels were shelved, as film crews left town and haven’t returned.

Pioneertown remain difficult to access | © culture Trip/Shea Salisbury

The Paul McCartney concert certainly put Pioneertown back on the map, but there had been a growing interest in the area beforehand. Articles about Pioneertown have been circulated for years, and the intrigue factor has been persistent, but now there are more and more people moving in permanently.

With a new series of Westworld launching later this year, perhaps there will be even more visitors?

The area around Pioneertown is remote | © Culture Trip/Shea Salisbury
Pioneertown | © Culture Trip/Shea Salisbury
Pioneertown | © Culture Trip/Shea Salisbury
Shea Salisbury / | © Culture Trip


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